Watching Cattle on the contradictory wonders of Australian Lager and French cheese and Cowboys And Aliens.
What could go wrong? Look at that title. Says it all doesn’t it? Cowboys and Aliens…it’s not so much beer and cigarettes as beer and Boursin. I was in a pub once and the rather lovely ladies at the table next to me had won an unwanted gift basket full of Boursin, cheese, pate and generally expensive finger food products (which, lets face it, you’d never actually buy in an average weeks shopping unless you’re the type of decadent bastard who uses triple ply toilet paper, has a trophy wife who keeps a dog in a bag, and has a guy who comes around once a month to service your pool and trophy wife). When I was offered said basket of treats I looked at it with a slight fear, could one dine on such finery while swilling back Fosters from a pitcher because it’s the cheapest shite they have? The answer was yes. And lo did I make a stuffed pig of myself – flavours clashed and combined, beer was drunk, cheese and crackers were gorged upon and the basket was taken verily to the fucking cleaners mate. So beer and Boursin? Yes.
That’s the great thing about combining two things which are at odds with each other. Expensive cheese based products and piss poor cheap Australian swill. If it works it elevates each ingredient to a satisfactory whole. Would I have liked the Boursin without the beer? Would I have enjoyed both without the lady offering it to me for free? Probably not because I couldn’t afford anything except Fosters and noodles at the time.
In the film world there are many great example of this theory. Take cowboys and homosexuality for example. Or extra terrestrial invaders and children, science fiction and film noir, romantic drama and Clint fucking Eastwood. Or in the case of The Guard – the gardai and lovability. See it is possible and when it works it can be sensational.
Cowboys and Aliens is directed by Jon Favreau who made the very enjoyable brain-in-the-off position blockbuster Iron Man. It stars a plethora of fine actors. It should be great – good cast, decent director, it’s got cowboys in it, it’s got aliens in it, what could go wrong? Unfortunately instead of getting off its horse and slugging whiskey with prostitutes while wielding its guns like a pair surrogate mickeys, it gets it’s clunky feet caught in the stirrups of the genres it’s trying to combine and falls flat on its face.
Daniel Craig plays a man who has amnesia and a big piece of metal stuck to his wrist. He strolls into a town and in the space of about two minutes we are introduced to basically every western cliche available. Clancy Brown is an upstanding preacher, Sam Rockwell is the good natured but not so manly or gun totting tavern owner with a beautiful wife, Keith Caradine is the good Sheriff with a young grandson and Paul Dano is the arrogant son of the local big wig who totes one of those guns that has infinite bullets. Harrison Ford is said local big wig, a former army type who’s big and mean. There’s even an Indian whose been adopted by the mean old bastard. Honestly that’s how many cliches there are. Basically all of them.
Anyway Craig’s man with no memory kicks Dano in the knackers and he gets hauled off jail. A beautiful, mysterious woman turns up and is the only one who seems to know what’s going on with the man with no name . I yawn at the standard western stuff so far and contemplate whether the aliens will liven things up. Of course when the aliens do turn up they dutifully go about making shite of the town. The metal on the arm of Daniel Craig turns out to be a weapon of mass destruction and eventually after the dust settles those dastardly alien bastards have stolen one half of all the cliched pairs – The Sheriff, the beautiful tavern owners wife, the local big wigs son etc.
And so the other halves – the tavern owner, the mean big wig, the young grandson (and sure we’ll throw in the Preacher and a dog for good measure) ride out with the reluctant Man with no personality to save them. You get all this from the trailer so I’m not giving away the plot, and seriously if you couldn’t work out that all this was going to happen then this may be the first time you’ve ever seen a movie and in that case I suggest that you watch a different one.
If you call your film Cowboys and Aliens and put it out in the omniplex during the summer you are going to attract an audience who want to be thrilled…who want popcorn and a gallon of coke and fun. This is the major problem here. It’s no fun. No fun at all. Any of it. The cast are going through the motions, only Harrison Ford is watch-able but his character has been accurately described by another critic as utterly bipolar. Craig is big and bland, Sam Rockwell looks like he wants to shoot his agent and Olivia Wilde is just there to have blue eyes, plenty of “I saw that coming ages ago” secrets, no bra and have a wide on for the man with no acting ability.
The film was written by five people which is rarely a good thing. You can tell as the story plods along and the dialogue shifts between boring and nonsensical drivel, that the committee that wrote it were just phoning it in and sucking the life out of each others ideas as they pandered to the studio and cashed their cheques. All of this would be okay if it had the redeeming feature of being fun. I don’t expect Cowboys and Aliens to be Pride and Prejudice and Aliens. This should be in 3D with wisecracks and wild out there special effects. It should be Butch and Sundance vs Predator, instead Faverau gets the tone of the film all wrong by playing the whole thing with head butting seriousness and what you end up with feels like a shit Unforgiven versus a shit Predator 2. Even this miscalculation could have worked. Who wouldn’t want to see The Proposition crossed with the first Alien movie? I would… but that would have required strong performances, a real sense of tension and the kind of time and space to build that tension, which doesn’t play well in the blockbuster format.
The film basically takes the worst aspects of the two genres, i.e the cliched stock western characters and dialogue (Be a man, a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do… etc) and pits them against the kind of soulless special effects that have been sucking the life out of science fiction since CGI reared its ugly head and James Cameron found the secret code for infinite money. What’s worse is that, by the end, the whole thing just abandons the idea of the cowboys and instead of a gun fight at the OK Coral with lasers you get the inevitable rescue mission against all odds and frankly who cares.
Avoid this. It’s no beer and boursin – it’s orange juice and toothpaste and a paper cut on your eyelid during your bitter divorce in Leitrim.
Cowboys And Aliens opens on August 19th